Thursday, March 5, 2009

Kiwi Cookin'

So as you know, we didn't get to New Zealand during the blizzard due to our lack of supplies for the traditional NZ dessert, pavlova. A pavlova is a traditional dessert from New Zealand which was created in honor of Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. There is some debate as to whether the dessert was invented in Australia or New Zealand, but the earliest recorded recipe in print was in a New Zealand recipe book, so I firmly claim it as a New Zealand thing. Apparently, this is a source of some contention between the two countries, as is evidenced by this amusing advertisement which I found on line.

Ok, well as it turns out, one of my two very good friends from graduate school married a Kiwi (the kiwi [the bird, not the fruit] being the national symbol of New Zealand) and moved to New Zealand. So I dropped him a line on Facebook the other day, inquiring after how they were doing and explaining my intention to make a pavlova. Tom responded this morning with words that chilled my heart:

Wow, that is a brave thing to do! It has been 10 years since I last tried a pav, and it fell completely. It is sometimes considered a rite of initiation as a classic kiwi chef, which I guess I am not. So, I would not take any tips from myself on that one.

Well okay then. If someone from that very country considers this a challenge, what is little ole me going to do with it? It made me thing of the old saying "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." But again, in for a penny, in for a pound. I'd already spent five freakin' dollars on raspberries for this sucker, and despite my profound love of raspberries, I bought them with this express purpose in mind and I was darned sure going to use them for it.

I googled some recipes and came upon one from somebody called Peggy Trowbridge Filippone. I can't vouch for its authenticity in terms of its New Zealandness other than to say she called it a New Zealand Pavlova, nor am I sure exactly where I found it--I didn't bookmark it after printing it out. So if you want the recipe, please email me and I will happily send it to you via email.

So today was a good day to bake. I had the afternoon free, which was good because according to the recipe, you bake a pav for an hour and then you let it sit in the oven until the oven goes cold or overnight. So it needed some time, since we were darn sure going to eat it tonight!

Pavlova is actually a pretty easy dish if you get all your stuff together first before attempting it. What you are basically doing is creating a meringue of sorts and then topping it with whipped cream and fruit and chocolate. If you have experience with meringues, it will help you a lot. I like to make meringue cookies for Christmas, and while this is a different technique for making a meringue type substance, I think you will find it to be similar in many ways.

So in reading the directions, it tells you to line a shallow jelly roll pan with a piece of parchment paper. A bit later on, it tells you to mound your meringue in a roughly 6 inch circle. So I used one of our cereal bowls and traced it on one side of the paper and put the written on side down. I could faintly see the circle from the other side and it gave me a nice guide to what I was doing. I took a picture, but it's really hard to see. I'm sure you know what a circle on a piece of paper looks like, however. I also preheated the oven to 400 degrees.

Ok, now the directions said to sprinkle cream of tartar over egg whites and then add in corn starch and superfine sugar that have been whisked together. I decided to have the corn starch/sugar mixture together before starting whisking the eggs so that I was that much more prepared. Let me again extol the virtues of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It is so powerful that whisking the whites and tartar together till stiff was a quick job. It took 2 minutes tops, and I doubt it took that long. Once they were nicely combined, I jacked it to top speed and let it roll.

Then it was time to add the sugar and cornstarch, one tablespoon at a time while the mixer is on medium speed. Please note that superfine sugar is NOT the same as confectioner's sugar. In fact, Ms. Trowbridge Filippone suggests that if you can't get superfine sugar, you take regular granulated sugar and grind the heck out of it in your food processor until it is very fine. Once you begin dropping the tablespoonsful of sugar in, the meringue comes together very quickly. It becomes beautiful and pearly colored, very shiny and very white.

Once this is accomplished, it's time to fold in some vanilla extract. I always get nervous when I'm folding that I'm going to over-fold it and the whole thing will collapse or I'll beat the air out of it. I've seen a technique by Alton Brown on the Food Network that I tend to use, which basically involves kind of a cutting motion through the middle of whatever it is you're folding and just going till everything is incorporated. So I let it go till everything looked like it was in there, and then it was time to put it on the sheet and in the oven.

While I may not be a champion folder, I'm a pretty good mounder. :-)

I put it in the oven and immediately dropped the temperature to 200 degrees, per the directions. Then it bakes for an hour. And then you turn off the oven and you let it sit. And sit and sit and sit. I let our sit for about 4 hours after I turned the oven off.

So after dinner, it was time to chop up the fruit and prepare the whipped cream. The whipped cream was supposed to be 'lightly sweetened'. When I make whipped cream, all I do is sprinkle some powdered sugar on top of heavy cream and let it go with the mixer. I may have overdone the sugar just a tad--it got away from me and I probably put in a tablespoon where I meant to put in a teaspoon. Next time, use the spoon, don't sprinkle from the bag! Next it was time to chop the fruit. As you can see, I used a variety--peaches, kiwi, strawberries, and raspberries. From my reading, it appears the fruit topping you choose is regional by country. For instance, the UK is getting into pavs big time and is hot on raspberries on theirs. It seems important that contrasting flavors are used, some sweet and some tart, and two of the combinations listed on Wikipedia were combinations I used--peaches and berries and strawberries and kiwi.

So this is what my pavlova looked like when I took it out of the oven:

Now, according to Trowbridge Filippone, the fruit goes on and then you top it with whipped cream. Now, in my extensive Google image search research, I did not find a single picture of a pav in which the fruit was not on top of the whipped cream. In fact, the picture in the print out from her recipe shows the fruit on top of the whipped cream. So this is what I did. I spread on the whipped cream, added the fruit, and then sprinkled mini chocolate chips over it.

Now, the meringue base did crack a little bit under the weight of the fruit and whipped cream, but nothing awful. It was quite airy to begin with and so consequently I think the top collapsed a little bit, but as you can see from the following picture of the General with the pav, it actually held up beautifully.

So it was time for a taste test! We dug in and oh what a treat we were in store for! The outside of the pav is crunchy like you'd expect a dry meringue to be, but the inside is chewy, almost like marshmallow. The shell is sweet and the whipped cream is sweet, so a tart fruit on top is a must. In fact, if we have this again, I intend to have just raspberries and chocolate on the next one. They are the perfect combination for a pav in my mind. I took a couple of close pictures to try and get you the sense of what the marshmallowy part of the pav is like.

As you can see, it's rather dense in there. Once the cream and fruit fell through the crisp outer shell on top, it was stopped by this delightful marshmallowy stuff.

The General liked it, although he picked off all the fruit. He would prefer it with just chocolate chips the next time, and when I packed some up for his lunch, I didn't include fruit with it, just chocolate.

The wonderful thing about it is that a little piece goes a long way and it is made with egg whites, which counterbalances the heavy cream a bit :-) Seriously, we each had a piece and I packed some up for the General's lunch and we have half a pav left.

It was a fun experience and I was glad to have succeeded pretty well! I'll be looking forward to Tom's feedback on how I did, seeing as he's a native, and hopefully I'll get passing marks!

No idea what country's next--we are getting close to baby's arrival date, so I don't want to plan too much in advance, but is anyone interested in coming over for an Italian night? I'm going to make tagliatelle bolognese and a carbonara dish, but pasta is big and filling and hearty, so I definitely need to plan for a crowd! I was thinking March 28th if that works for anyone/everyone? Let me know!!! The more the merrier!

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